Every group will benefit

Taco van der Eb

Isabel Hoving, University lecturer for Film and Literary Studies, has been appointed diversity officer by the Executive Committee. Hoving and Vice-Rector Simone Buitendijk want the university to be place where everyone can reach their full potential.

Why do we need a diversity officer?

Vice-Rector Simone Buitendijk: “Our policy on diversity was very fragmented: we couldn’t agree on the importance of diversity and inclusiveness. However, we want to attract as many gifted people as possible and if we don’t encourage diversity, we will miss out on that. We were looking for an academic with the force to implement this policy.”
Isabel Hoving: “I’m interested in other views on culture and identity, and in studies into gender and sexuality. The question we must keep asking ourselves is: ‘What do people who are not in the centre of power think?’ I’m currently researching that and lecturing on that topic. I thought: “this is great, but will it change anything?’ Now I’m involved in a more hands-on way.”

Women advance more slowly to higher positions. Why?
Hoving: “Certain assumptions about men and women are deeply rooted in our culture, so deep that women stand less chance of getting a job and get unfair reviews of their research. A Swedish study reveals that when men and women both submit research proposals, the proposals are not reviewed on equal terms. Women’s research proposals have to be two and a half times as good to get the same evaluation. For both men and women, a woman’s name evokes all sorts of stereotypes. This is not a conscious exclusion policy; prejudice is very deeply rooted in all of us. We have to tackle this issue pragmatically, as an institute.”

Can you give an example of what we should be doing?
Hoving: “Application procedures for jobs should be more transparent.”
Buitendijk: “The more objective we can make the criteria, the smaller the chances that subconscious prejudice comes into play. And it would help if there were more women on the appointments committee. Nowadays, in Leiden, there has to be at least one female academic.”
Hoving: “Formerly, the situation was: if there was a woman on the committee, it would often be a female student, just to comply with the rules. But that’s changed now.”
Buitendijk: “People assume that the situation’s not all that bad, but if you look at the figures, you can see it’s not right.”

Why do students from minorities get special attention?
Hoving: “It has emerged that non-Western students drop out more often than Dutch students and we don’t want to lose them. As a university, we have to let them know that they belong here. I heard a Moroccan student say that she hadn’t seen a single student from the same background talking about the course at the open day. Only blond girls had been selected to do the talking. We can work on things like that.”

But will more money and attention be needed for specific groups?
Hoving: “Affirmative action is precisely what it is not. Affirmative action is saying; ‘this group has a problem.’ The group doesn’t have a problem – the university does. We are not sufficiently diverse and that’s why we can’t prepare our students for today’s inter-cultural world. We need to take a critical and systematic look at our policy for employment and careers and at how we deal with students; it will be better for every group.”
Buitendijk: “It is a misconception that a policy to help one group would be detrimental to another. Take the discussion about women and employment: it should include men. For instance, fathers only get two days’ leave when a child is born. We’re short-changing men in the Netherlands. A better balance will benefit everyone.”

The memorandum on diversity also mentions sexual orientation. Why?
Buitendijk: “We don’t know how homosexuals, for example, in Leiden feel, although there one study reveals that British gay and transsexual students don’t feel quite as at home at their universities as heterosexuals and that affects their results. It is very important for everyone to be who they are – only then will they reach their full potential.”
Hoving: “I’ve noticed that people’s work improves if there is room for their perspective.”

By Vincent Bongers

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